From Aurora to Newtown: Coping With Grief - WXOW News 19 La Crosse, WI – News, Weather and Sports |

From Aurora to Newtown: Coping With Grief


LA CROSSE, Wisconsin(WXOW) – The Newtown, Conn. school shooting came just five months after a man opened fire, killing 12 people in a movie theater in Aurora, Colo.

"I had never heard a gun shot before," said Julia Vojtsek, who was attending the midnight showing of the newest Batman movie that night.

She said she remembers the events that unfolded very vividly.

"(The shooter) threw a tear gas grenade and within like 10 or 15 seconds the entire theater was filled with tear gas," Vojtsek said. "It hurts your lungs, you can't breathe and it makes you  feel like your eyes and nose are bleeding."

"Then he started shooting with the rifle. Just shooting rounds, and rounds, and rounds; anyone running for the exit he would shoot," she said.

Also in the theater that night was Vojtsek's boyfriend John Larimer, a member of the U.S. Navy.

He was killed.

"The shooting stopped for a second and I heard people scream 'go, go, go.' So I stood up, looked at John and saw he wasn't moving, wasn't responsive, and his friends just told me to get out of there," Vojtsek said. "So I just ran out of there and as I was running the shooter was staring at me and reloading his gun."

She added the events of that night will stay with her forever.

"I'm never going to be the same,"Vojtsek said. "Anytime I'm in large crowds I get scared."

But she added she did find some way sto help with the traumatic aftermath.  

"Group therapy and counseling – that's the number one thing you have to do like immediately," Vojtsek said. "I was having really bad nightmares. I mean, I still do but they've gotten a lot better. They're a lot more infrequent."

"Anytime children are involved in such a violent act, I know it's going to affect our La Crosse families," said Regina Siegel, the Director of Pupil Services and Learning Supports in the La Crosse School District.

"With our 7,000 students in La Crosse, each one – literally, each student – might handle (the Connecticut shooting) a different way," she added.

Siegel said she recommends parents talk to their children about unsettling events like the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting provided their kids are ready and willing to do so.

She added younger students might be best-served to be shielded from the troubling information and often graphic television images that accompanied both the Newtown and Aurora shootings.

Vojtsek said, in her opinion, that's the right approach.

"For many months I wasn't able to do anything," she said.

"You have to recover at a really slow pace. I don't think it's good to try and stay busy afterwards," Vojtsek said. "When something like that happens I think you need to start grieving."

She added she's now left to hope that those impacted by last Friday's tragedy in Connecticut might eventually begin the healing process, too. 

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